… the clean granite of reality.

The morning we left Yosemite, the blue skies of the previous days gave-way to snow flurries. We treated ourselves to a warm breakfast of bisquits and gravy, and some coffee, to shake off the cold of packing up  camp in what was, at the time, rain and hail. I sat by a fire at the deli to dry my clothes, and watched the air twist in white swirls. And though I know it was fortunate that the weather was so well-behaved for us during our stay, I couldn’t help but realize that this is how I imagined Yosemite: shrouded in clouds, the granite walls of the valley emerging like specters in the fog; enticing with the mystery, a lingerie effect.

When you can’t see far, your world becomes introspective, and contemplative, and my thoughts kept returning to a letter written by Ansel Adams – something I have read countless times, specifically the final paragraph, which I’ve committed to memory. Though there were no thunderclouds, I could imagine them easier with the sky so close and grey than I could when it was endless. I felt near in time and space to the letter, and to the state-of-mind in which it was written, an experience which was both humbling and exciting. Here is that letter:

June 10, 1937

Dear Cedric,

A strange thing happened to me today. I saw a big thundercloud move down over Half Dome, and it was so big and clear and brilliant that it made me see many things that were drifting around inside of me; things that relate to those who are loved and those who are real friends.

For the first time I know what love is; what friends are; and what art should be.

Love is a seeking for a way of life; the way that cannot be followed alone; the resonance of all spiritual and physical things. Children are not only of flesh and blood – children may be ideas, thoughts, emotions. The person of the one who is loved is a form composed of a myriad of mirrors reflecting and illuminating the powers and thoughts and the emotions that are within you, and flashing another kind of light from within. No words or deeds may encompass it.

Friendship is another form of love – more passive perhaps, but full of the transmitting and acceptance of things like thunderclouds and grass and the clean granite of reality.

Art is both love and friendship and understanding: the desire to give. It is not charity, which is the giving of things. It is more than kindness, which is the giving of self. It is both the taking and giving of beauty, the turning out to the light of the inner folds of the awareness of the spirit. It is a recreation on another plane of the realities of the world; the tragic and wonderful realities of earth and men, and of all the interrelations of these.


The weather pattern seemed to arrive for us, and then depart on our exit. We stopped on our way out to look back at the park, and the sky was clear again, though I realized in that moment that maybe clarity is subjective, because it seemed there was less to see with the passing of the storm. Either way, the pilgrimage to Yosemite was over, and I was on my way home, taking the impact of this realization with me, as well as a renewed wonder in the natural world, and my place in it.

18 thoughts on “… the clean granite of reality.

    1. Be my guest. I think that letter is one of those things that gives new perspective to a lot of people, or just puts words where they couldn’t place them. Thank you.

  1. Thank you so much for sharing that wonderful letter (and your fantastic work!)… I hope you continue to reflect upon your pilgrimage and let it affect you (and thus others).

  2. woohoo ! the pictures are stunning !! and I do like to read about your thoughts when you were in this amazing region. the citations from the letter of ansel adams are very interesting.


  3. The combination of your magnificent photography and Ansel’s words felt like the snow and rain you spoke of, it woke me up, it clarifies and inspires. I don’t know what else to say really, words fail me tonight…

    Hope you don’t mind me reprinting the letter on my blog, it just feels essential to share them, you know?

    1. Share away. There are few things I’ve read that have had such a lasting impact. There aren’t really words for it, and I feel a little guilty for having any text in the post besides the letter. Glad you’ve taken to it.

      1. No need to feel at all guilty, James…But I know what you mean, but also know that your own words are perfect as accompaniment, they enhance what Ansel said, and they add to the spirit of what he shared. Really, cheers for such a wonderful post man, this all goes with me, out there…

    1. Thank you very much Annika. If you get the chance, you should try to find this series of documentaries called “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” by Ken Burns. There are multiple episodes, and I’ve only seen the first one, but it was mostly about Yosemite, and it was incredible. If you have netflix, it’s available to watch from your computer.

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